the imperial archive

a clearinghouse of information for empire-haters

09 July 2006

some key words

a quick and dirty Lacanian glossary

che vuoi?: what does the Other want? it is the question which we consistantly attempt to answer, but never can. It is at the heart of our being as social creatures, marking a fascination with those around us that bind us to them. This does not have to mean in a geographic sense--no one was more obsessed with che vuoi than the Unabomber, who hid in a shack out of fear of the answer to that question, and yet wrote hundreds of pages as though he were answering to all of us, telling us what he thought we wanted to know.

desire: not to be confused with need or demand. Need is biological and disappears when satisfied. Demand is the articulation of a need. What is left over when a need has been satisfied is desire. Example: Need is when I am hungry, I demand lunch at the Cog, and I am satisfied. Desire is when I need love, I demand it, and I want it even after that demand has been answered. Desires, then, can never be satisfied. Lacan says "Man's desire is the desire of the Other." Desire is a social product--it can't be separated from what we think about others. For example, we desire money and fame because we think/know that others desire it, and we would like to be desired by them.

drives: separate from instinct. Drives are social, they are what we feel we are called towards. Freud says there are life and death drives. Lacan says only death drives insofar as they are nostalgia for lost harmony, a harmony only capable outside of life as we know it. They are also all sexual and partial.

lack: The feeling of incompletion that comes from being unable to access the Real. Think of it as the cracks in the facade of phantasies.

the gaze: the way in which we are shaped by looking and the belief that we are being looked at. The religious person acts as though constantly subject to the gaze of God. The movie director manipulates the audience by controlling what they may and may not see. Your first big "gaze" is when you first saw yourself in the mirror, and realized you were a separate person who could look at others and be looked upon by others.

the open secret: what we all know is the case (that lawmakers bend the rules, for example), but cannot bear to be confronted with because if spoken aloud, it would challenge our phantasies. Exhibit A: Back when Jimmy Carter was president, he told Playboy that he had lust in his heart, as do all human beings. But when people are forced to speak this open secret—see it for what it is—we are embarrassed. The phantasy of the chaste religious man disappeared, but rather than give up the phantasy, we all claimed to be shocked, SHOCKED! Exhibit B: Abu Ghraib. Who’d have thunk that when we train men and women to kill and degrade, they might get a kick out of it? And again we refused to give up the phantasy of soldiers as being brave and true, and war and violence as just 9 to 5, given up when off the battlefield, we remained loyal and instead punished the violators, even though it threatened those in power (Donald Rumsfeld was nearly forced out of his position).

the other (both big and little): The little other is the projection of our ego onto something immediate (you think that you are fat, therefore you see this doubt in those around you). The big Other is another kettle of fish altogether. It is totally alien, radically different and unable to be assimilated. The little other might be the person that you want to be like, who you want to identify yourself with, because you have projected upon them certain desireable qualities. The big Other is the one who is completely separate and inscrutable, and yet somehow always watching. You always desire the Other, but are always unable to understand it. The best example I can think of is God. Another examples are the Victorian paintings of odalisks, beautiful exotic foriegn women in various states who stared seductively out at the viewer, but in their foreign-ness, they were unknowable and yet immanently desirable.

phantasy: that which conceals the inconsistencies in the big Other. Lacan compares it to watching a movie where something traumatic is about to happen and the frame just freezes, veiling the impending horror (for Lacan, castration). It is static and unchanging.

the real: the surplus of external reality that resists language. Is that like when words fail you, you ask? Well yes, only add on that they always fail to a certain extent. The real is impossible, but it persists because it is the rock against which all of our phantasies fail.

traversing the phantasy: exposing our desire for what it is, a fiction. It means accepting the imperfections of the world and our inability to come to terms with the Real, rather than stopping the film. Think of it as watching the traumatic scene in all its gory and horrible glory, then feeling both unendingly disgusted but also triumphant.


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